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Escalating Public Bureaucracy

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

You would think that all of this talk about not having enough money would cause lawmakers to think about reducing the number of people on the public payroll. Wrong! Just the opposite is taking place at the legislature.
In the House draft of the budget, instead of cutting expenditures and reducing the number of public employees, the number of public employee positions would grow by 1,500 and the amount to be spent goes up by nearly $100 million. While the explanation is that many of these positions are for the education system, there doesn’t seem to be a connection to the idea that perhaps they should eliminate positions and spending in other areas as a way to set priorities for state tax dollars.
And another bill that has been resurrected from last year’s session would add even more bureaucrats to the public payroll. This is the infamous bottle bill which would require a nonrefundable 2 cent fee on every beverage container manufactured or shipped into the state and another nickel fee that would be refunded to the customer upon return of the container to the retailer or to a redemption center.
Hey, it sounds like a great idea and it’s not so bad, after all you get your nickel back if you take the container back to the store or to a redemption center. The problem is that the proposed program will cost taxpayers/consumers dearly.
According to health department officials, they estimate that in the first year of the program, more than $56 million will be generated from the two fees. Based on an 80% return estimate, about $32 million will be refunded on returned beverage containers. The other $24 million will be used to administer the program, audit retailers and distributors to make sure they are complying with the law, and “educate” the public about returning those containers.
That’s right folks, that is $24 million to fund more employees on the public payroll. And you thought government was getting smaller. Of course, that $24 million doesn’t take into account the added cost to retailers and distributors for taking back the used beverage containers, storing and cleaning the containers, and the record keeping that would have to be done to make sure all containers and funds are accounted for in complying with the law.
What is even more amazing is that the last stand-alone bottle bill like this one was approved back in 1982. True, California has a bottle deposit law that was enacted in 1995, but it was part of a more comprehensive recycling program that addresses all kinds of solid waste. There are only nine other states which have a stand- alone bottle bill. Is there something that the other 39 states know that Hawaii is trying to ignore?
Some other interesting information also came to light in a recent hearing on the bottle bill. Beverage containers account for less than one percent of the solid waste in Hawaii. On the other side, it was noted that more than half of the solid waste disposed in the state is as a result of demolition activities. So it seems an awfully expensive price to pay for addressing what is only 1% of the solid waste problem in Hawaii.
Ah, but as a student at the University testified, “sometimes we need to forget about the economy and do what’s good for the ‘aina.’ ” She better not expect to find a job after she gets out of school.
But it is the economy and the cost of living and doing business that does matter. Not only will another $24 million be taken out of the economy to fund more public bureaucrats, but the additional costs incurred by retailers will be passed on to all consumers. So instead of reducing the cost of living in Hawaii, the bottle bill will make it that much more difficult to survive in this community.
So should the state ignore the litter problem? No, the problem is real, but there must be other ways that are more cost effective than merely slapping a fee on beverage containers. Note well that the fee applies only to beverage containers. What about the other containers of similar material that hold products other than beverages?
In a sense the litter problem is an indictment of the various state and county agencies that have been charged with recycling. Their efforts to inform and educate obviously have not been effective. Yet it is these very agencies that will get the funds from this proposal. Is there something wrong with this picture?

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